The Pleiotropic Effects of the GM-CSF Rheostat on Myeloid Cell Differentiation and Function: More Than a Numbers Game

Yifan Zhan, Andrew M. Lew, Michael Chopin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Granulocyte Macrophage-Colony Stimulating Factor (GM-CSF) is a myelopoietic growth factor that has pleiotropic effects not only in promoting the differentiation of immature precursors into polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs), monocytes/macrophages (MØs) and dendritic cells (DCs), but also in controlling the function of fully mature myeloid cells. This broad spectrum of GM-CSF action may elicit paradoxical outcomes—both immunostimulation and immunosuppression—in infection, inflammation, and cancer. The complexity of GM-CSF action remains to be fully unraveled. Several aspects of GM-CSF action could contribute to its diverse biological consequences. Firstly, GM-CSF as a single cytokine affects development of most myeloid cells from progenitors to mature immune cells. Secondly, GM-CSF activates JAK2/STAT5 and also activate multiple signaling modules and transcriptional factors that direct different biological processes. Thirdly, GM-CSF can be produced by different cell types including tumor cells in response to different environmental cues; thus, GM-CSF quantity can vary greatly under different pathophysiological settings. Finally, GM-CSF signaling is also fine-tuned by other less defined feedback mechanisms. In this review, we will discuss the role of GM-CSF in orchestrating the differentiation, survival, and proliferation during the generation of multiple lineages of myeloid cells (PMNs, MØs, and DCs). We will also discuss the role of GM-CSF in regulating the function of DCs and the functional polarization of MØs. We highlight how the dose of GM-CSF and corresponding signal strength acts as a rheostat to fine-tune cell fate, and thus the way GM-CSF may best be targeted for immuno-intervention in infection, inflammation and cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2679
Number of pages15
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • dendritic cells
  • differentiation
  • function
  • GM-CSF
  • macrophages

Cite this